September 5

G-G right to join women’s only club; why did the ex-premiers raise the politicians’ republic?

The Governor-General has been in the news recently. First Her Excellency accepted honorary membership of the Lyceum Club, a Melbourne club for women only.  This is while the Victorian parliament is enquiring whether single-sex clubs deserve to remain exempt from the state's equal opportunity laws.

In a report in  The Weekend Australian (29/8),  Kym Smith said that Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls had denounced the city's exclusive men-only institutions such as the Melbourne Club and the Athenaeum Club as anachronistic.

Curiously they are silent on clubs which only have women as members.

Lyceum Club and G-G

Ms. Gillard taunted the clubs for not proposing the Governor- General for honorary membership. Then the  Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who holds the position Ms Bryce occupied in the early 1990s, weighed into the debate. She declared it is "not smart" for any institution that claims to reflect a city's elite to lock out half of the population.

A spokeswoman for Ms Bryce defended her decision to join the Lyceum Club."The Governor-General has no issue with men or women-only clubs or organisations," the spokeswoman said. "She is patron of numerous organisations specifically for women, such as the CWA, the Girls Brigade, Business and Professional Women Australia and the National Rural Women's Coalition."

The Governor- General behaved properly in accepting the invitation

Given the criticisms of the Victorian government concerning the maintenance of law and order, and policies concerning bushfire mitigation, we would have thought the Victorian government should be concentrating on these, and not on what are essentially private matters. 

The constitutional system we have inherited envisages limited government with the maximum freedom for citizens.  Why the Deputy Prime Minister also entered into a debate far from her many responsibilities is difficult to understand. She has several portfolios to concern her. The membership of private clubs is surely not a federal matter.

I have been invited to speak in women’s clubs, and have found the experience enjoyable. Like men’s clubs, the women’s clubs allow the opposite sex in as guests in the dining room and for many functions. Whether they do or not is of course their own business, and is not my concern or of anyone else. 

When I was chairman of the ABA we needed to have a reception in Melbourne. Having seen the quotes from the hotels, I asked for quotes from the various clubs. A gentleman’s club quoted a significantly lower price and in a more interesting place.  I accepted that.  Some journalists attacke dme in the press and a few  women boycotted it.  One lady thanked me – she said she had been waiting for years to see the inside of that club. What would have happened if we had gone to the Lyceum?

…The Sydney Institute….

Then on 1 September, the Governor-General addressed The Sydney Institute.  Curiously both the formal introduction to Her Excellency and the vote of thanks involved references to, yes, Australia becoming some sort of unknown politicians’ republic.

The Sydney Institute, directed by author and commentator Dr Gerard Henderson, is a respected forum. It is a most appropriate for a vice regal address. True, Dr Henderson is a committed republican, but it is inconceivable that he would have sought the introduction of republicanism into the evening. 

It is pleasing to see that in her address the Governor-General avoided the issue; she would only damage her standing in the community if she had returned to the issue.  

So why was the issue raised? Surely it was not to invite her then or later to commit a further faux pas. Sensibly she avoided that. We assume that guided by her  Official Secretary Stephen Brady she will henceforth abjure republicanism and all other matters political. 

Introduced by the Hon. Nick Greiner, I am told he said that the nation will return to the issue of a politicians’ republic, whoever is in power. This is unlikely. If a coalition leader were to promote such a republic, he or she will tear the coalition apart. The parliamentary parties would be astounded; the constituency parties would be outraged. Could anyone be so foolish?

Nor will Labor go to a referendum. Republicans still cannot agree on what they want. There are only two models under serious discussion, and they can hardly repeat the 1999 exercise. If they went for direct election, the conservative republicans will oppose it.

The media this time would be divided, and as Professor Craven says, a referendum on this would  guarantee that Australians would live not only under the reign of King Charles III but also King William V. 

In moving the vote of thanks, the Hon Bob Carr returned to his theme that a politicians’ republic is ever so simple. You just call the president the governor-general and head of state. He thus tries to turn Walter Bagehot on his head. Bagehot famously described the United Kingdom as a “disguised republic.”

Bob Carr, who threw the NSW Governor out of Government House, and tried to make the office part time, called on the 2020 Summit to adopt an "ultra-minimalist" republican model. They did not, but adopted a resolution about terminating links with the UK, unaware that this was done in 1986.

Mr Carr insists a politicians’ republic is achievable. He says you just delete all references to The Queen from the Constitution, and declare the Governor-General to be head of state – which she is already.

That’s a variation of the old “tippex” solution where you white out such references, a solution abandoned as totally inadequate and facile by Malcolm Turnbull.

Such an extreme “tippex” solution as Carr’s was suggested at the 1998 Constitutional Convention. It did not survive this withering remark by Justice Lloyd Waddy – he  brought the house down:

 “This is a Governor-General who is not a Governor-General, and we could not explain it when he was a Governor-General. But now he is not a Governor-General; he is really a president but we do not call him that because we do not dare to.”  



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